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Gov. Releases Barnegat Bay Plan – Some Good Things, Lots of Unanswered Questions

By | December 17th, 2010

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by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Governor Christie has released his long-awaited plan to restore Barnegat Bay.  Click here for the Plan and here for the press release.

The key things causing Barnegat Bay’s ecological decline are (a) excessive nutrients (particularly nitrogen) flowing into the Bay from human activities in the watershed and beyond, and (b) the cooling system of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, which sucks in many billions of gallons of water, heats it, treats it with deadly chemicals, then releases it back into the Bay.  The Governor’s Plan speaks to both these issues.  It represents a start in the right direction, but leaves the key issues for future decisions and actions that may never come about.

One of the basic challenges facing restoration of the Bay is the fact that its watershed is politically fragmented: about a third of the watershed is in the Pinelands Area, where the Pinelands Commission plans land use change; about a third is in the Coastal Zone, where the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) applies the very weak “CAFRA” rules over development; and about a third is left entirely to municipal zoning, which has fostered truly egregious sprawl in the northern third of the Barnegat Bay watershed.

Here’s a quick summary of PPA’s view of the Plan:

Good things:

1.       The Plan contains some good first steps towards restoring the Bay.

2.       The Plan shows a recognition that government – and citizens – must see the Bay and its watershed as an integral whole if the Bay’s ecological problems are going to be solved.  We cannot continue leaving this issue to individual municipal governments, the Pinelands, and CAFRA, each doing its own thing for its own reasons.

3.       The Governor commits to funding the repair and retrofit of failing stormwater systems, of land acquisition, and of planning work.

4.       The Governor states his support for important statewide legislation on lawn fertilizers and soil restoration.

5.       The Plan says the state will support and participate in education efforts aimed at showing the public how to reduce nutrient contamination of the Bay.

6.       The Plan commits to protecting more sensitive areas from harm by boats and personal water craft.

Problems:

1.       The Plan does not directly address the critical need to stop developing more forests and other natural areas in the watershed.  In fact, the Governor’s press release and plan document make no mention of this issue at all.  It is possible the problem of overdevelopment can be addressed through implementation of a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), which is included in the Plan.

2.       Creating and implementing a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) could work to get a handle on sprawl and continuing destruction of forests in the watershed, but the Governor’s Plan leaves the SAMP’s features and implementation completely unspecified.  SAMPs are authorized by the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, but the Act leaves their contents and implementation entirely up to the states that create them.  If the SAMP does not take on land use change, and does not have an enforcement mechanism to control municipal zoning and developers’ actions, then the Plan will be defeated by continuing sprawl development of the watershed’s remaining developable land.

3.       In fact, the Plan does not actually commit to creating enforceable nutrient contamination standards for the Bay and its watershed.  It says DEP will adopt “narrative” criteria for nutrients, as opposed to numerical standards, but such narrative standards are generally not enforceable.  The Plan does not commit the state to creating a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nutrients – that is, a numerical budget that specifies the maximum nutrients that can be added to the Bay – or any other form of numerical performance standard to reduce the flow of nutrients from human activities into the Bay.

4.       The Plan accepts Exelon’s announced decision to close the Oyster Creek Generating Station by the end of 2019, instead of installing cooling towers to replace the use of Bay water for cooling.  This means the Bay will suffer at least nine more years of destruction as the plant kills every living thing in the 1.4 billion gallons the plant takes in, uses and expels every day.  This approach also does not even guarantee the plant will close – only that it will keep harming the Bay for years to come.

5.       The Plan makes no reference to Low Impact Development (LID), meaning the creative techniques people have found to design developments in order to reduce the nutrients and other contaminants they add to the ecosystem.

6.       The Plan encourages a good research agenda, but does not say the state will actually help carry out or fund that agenda. In addition, scientists have already produced enough studies to move forward with implementing a strategy to clean up the Bay. There is no reason to delay any further to wait for new information.

3 Responses to “Gov. Releases Barnegat Bay Plan – Some Good Things, Lots of Unanswered Questions”

  1. Carleton Montgomery says:

    Tom, The statement about deadly chemicals refers to the cleaning chemicals which you mention. They obviously are meant to kill – that’s why they are put into the system. I don’t know whether the amounts would harm people, but that’s a different matter. I understand the plant needs to cleanse pipes exposed to Bay water to prevent mussels and the like from growing on them. I learned this piece of the picture from the Barnegat Bay Partnership (the National Estuary Program for Barnegat Bay), which I take to be a credible source. It’s certainly not a lie!

    As to killing everything, I have always understood that fish and other living things in the water used by the plant for cooling and returned to the Bay are killed in the process, due to the high temperatures to which the water is heated and the screening mechanisms used.

    Note that PPA is not opposed to the continued operation of the plant, only to its use of Bay water for cooling, because of the impacts on the Bay. So it’s not an anti-nuclear agenda.

    We wanted to see the state require installation of cooling towers, rather than the position the Governor has taken in just acceding to Exelon’s claim it will close the plant in nine years.

    – Carleton

  2. bob says:

    I see hope and also lots of disappointment. As long as the shore and bay area are so popular I feel the profiteers will rule the roost and extreme amounts of resistance and political hyperbole will be in play for all attempts to protect and reverse the destruction taking place in the bay. It is an absolute fact politicians are in the pockets of the development community and will always push very hard against any restrictions on habitat and forest protections. This is just fact you stand almost no chance of being elected to office in New Jersey if you are not one of the developers puppets. And even less chance if in your past any environmental concern has been expressed and pursued. The health and welfare of New Jersey’s environment and humans is nowhere near the issue we think it is profit is the God of our politicians.

  3. Thomas Osborne says:

    Well, Again I see lies about Oyster Creek. To tell the public the plant treats the water with deadly chemicals and that it kills every living thing is simply propaganda. The water is treated with chlorine, why don’t you tell that! It is then hugely diluted, and like pool water the chlorine disapates rapidly and this deadly chemical that is in our drinking water is not building up in the bay like you are trying to make it seem. Currently every bit of the water goes back to the bay. The cooling tower idea is not a savior for the bay. Tell people how cooling water will evaporate water from the bay every minute and sends the concentrated brine back to the bay. The water evaporated from the bay, will be made up by ocean water coming in the inlets, made the bay water salinity even higher. What will that do to the environmental balance. Think people!!
    If the public saw the tons of trash the plant filters out of the bay water annually they would not believe it. When the plant is gone, also will be the benefits. The donations to bay work, the employee volunteers that work in many bay organizations. If you really cared about the bay you’d be campaigning for ‘no gas motorized boating’. Those destroyed grass beds and injured sea turtles, are not caused by the plant. Lets face it, it is simply an anti-nuclear agenda talking, it’s not all save the bay when they talk Oyster Creek. I guess you’ll see in eight years.
    This organization has seen my last year of membership. I understand differing opinions, but I want to see truth in print.

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